Two-year-old Cambridge startup Arsia Therapeutics Inc. said Wednesday that it has struck a research collaboration with biotech giant Biogen Inc. to develop a system for delivering drugs to hemophilia patients through under-the-skin injections.
The alliance, one of a dozen Arsia has inked with biopharma and generic drug companies, is the first to be made public. Under the terms, Arsia will receive an unspecified upfront payment from Biogen and eventually be eligible for as much as $100 million in milestone payouts and additional royalties if the partnership yields multiple commercialized products.
“Having an approach where you can deliver something subcutaneously should obviously have some advantages for patients,” said Arsia cofounder Bob Langer, an institute professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has started more than 20 biotech companies.
Arsia’s subcutaneous drug delivery technology seeks to reformulate drugs that can now be delivered only through intravenous infusion, making them more convenient for patients to take. The technology originated in the lab of MIT professor Alex Klibanov, another Arsia cofounder. The company’s third cofounder is Alan Crane, a partner at Boston venture capital firm Polaris Partners, which provided seed funding.
Scientists at Arsia are working with Biogen and other partners on ways to reduce the viscosity, or thickness, of their drug compounds to enable them to be injected under the skin without diluting their concentration. That will enable the partners to make new drugs and reformulate existing ones to make them easier to take or enable them to be taken less frequently.
As the Food and Drug Administration approves more biosimilars, generic versions of protein-based biotech drugs, Arsia also will help companies develop “bio-betters,” generics that can be delivered subcutaneously, said Arsia chief executive Amy Schulman.
“The platform works,” said Schulman, a venture partner at Polaris who took the reins at Arsia about 18 months ago. “We are fully committed to our [research] partners and the development of their compounds. We are not developing our own compounds.”
Schulman said Arsia is funding its growth through its collaborations, each of which is organized differently. Arsia hasn’t yet identified the other companies it’s working with.
Biogen, best known for its industry-leading multiple sclerosis drug franchise, has two approved hemophilia drugs. Both are delivered intravenously. The alliance with Arsia is exploring the possibility of changing the way drugs are injected, but it is too soon to say if the research will prove successful for hemophilia compounds.
“Hemophilia molecules are tricky molecules, and they don’t easily lend themselves to subcutaneous formulation,” said Jorg Thommes, the Biogen senior vice president of technical development. “That’s where we’re trying to get to. We have a very wide commitment to hemophilia in general. We’re working on many angles, and this is one of them.”